Unorthodox Higher Ed in Boerum Hill

Photo Joe Hume

It’s hard to take a class on Freud if you’re not already matriculated at a four-year liberal arts college. But with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research—whose classes usually meet at Boerum Hill’s bar-restaurant Building on Bond—adults looking to study the humanities can join with like-minded neighbors and local scholars to do just that: this June, classes in the founder of psychoanalysis, as well as Realism and the Philosophy of Film, begin.

But why pay for classes when you could just get a book from the library? “If people want to form book groups and read Freud or Benjamin or Plato or study particle physics, more power to them! We mean that very earnestly,” director Ajay Chaudhary tells us. “That said, you can learn to fix your car from a manual or a message board, or you can learn from a mechanic, and these are not the same experiences. In many ways, what we have in this country right now is a glut of a certain kind of mechanic—academics. These are extraordinarily talented, knowledgeable, and eager scholars who want to teach, conduct research, write, debate, and work.” Higher ed has increasingly become dependent upon exploiting underpaid, overworked and uninsured adjuncts, leaving the serious scholars among them without the time or resources to do their own research because they’re stuck grading stacks of papers for peanuts. “We see ourselves as not only attempting to integrate scholarship into community life at a very accessible level, but also to make academic life materially possible for more young scholars,” Chaudhary says.

“Furthermore—and this is really crucial—there are many subjects, we believe, that require the kind of sustained, engaged, and critical discourse that comes through a structured seminar environment. This is partly a question of having an instructor who has devoted some 10 or 20 years to the subject at hand, who can guide a group through key texts, backgrounds, ideas. But it is equally about the kind of discussion, challenge, and debate provided by peers in a structured social setting. If you’re interested in this sort of environment, specifically geared toward the lives and conditions—and time constraints—of working adults, then the Brooklyn Institute might be an excellent place for you to study.”

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